Conscious Consumers: 10 Ways Millennials & Gen Zs Are Changing How & What We Buy

9 Mins Read

Look around your regular grocery store or high street shops, and it’s pretty hard to miss the major changes that have taken place as new trends shake up decades-old established industries. Thanks to millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Zs (referred to as the group born between 1997 and early 2010s) – whom together make up a whopping 64% of the market – businesses from all sectors of the economy are now having to adapt quickly to keep up with changing habits. Let’s take a look at how they’re transforming everything from the big meat industry to fashion.  

1. They eat less meat

Younger generations are eating far less meat than their predecessors, and are driving the global shift towards more sustainable and healthier plant-based alternatives. They have made the connection between meat eating and the environment and they have changed their habits accordingly. Thanks to this sea change, we’ve seen the rise of alternative meat and dairy: vegan food techs are taking over grocery aisles and dinner tables, from Beyond Meat burgers to “bleeding” Impossible patties and Omnipork dumplings. Big name brands are hopping on the bandwagon, with the likes of KFC and Burger King all offering meat-free options and the world’s biggest food manufacturer Nestlé going all out on plant-based innovation

Source: Shutterstock

It isn’t just vegans driving the trend, but huge swathes of flexitarian eaters too, who opt for a plant-centric diet with only occasional portions of meat or dairy. According to a GlobalData report – an analytics firm working with 4,000 of the world’s biggest companies – almost 70% of the world population is reducing meat consumption or ditching it altogether, driven by astonishing facts about carbon-intensive animal agriculture. The coronavirus has only accelerated the trend, with consumers from Hong Kong to the U.S. showing increasing interest in plant-based meat alternatives. 

2. They care about values 

Above all, millennials and Gen Zs are much more value and principle-led when it comes to their everyday choices, whether it be their careers or purchases. In a 2016 study, over two-thirds of millennials said that making a difference should be an important part of their job, and that they expect their company to be purpose-driven too. It’s probably one of the reasons why Patagonia – a certified B Corp and well-known for its value-led brand identity – attracts over 9,000 applications for every open internship position and full-time role. Speaking to Forbes about the reason behind the competitiveness to nab a spot in Patagonia’s team, CEO Rose Marcario said simply: “When you do work that’s good for the world, people want to be part of it.”

And it seems that this is going to pass from one generation to the next, with recent figures indicating that Generation Alpha, the children of millennials, already want to make saving the planet their career mission.

Of course, this means that companies must also prove that profits don’t come before values – not only to retain customers, but to remain in the good graces of their employees. Recent scandals involving multinationals such as Amazon have shown that employees, many of them millennials and Gen Zs, are no longer staying quiet if they disagree with company leadership on important social and environmental issues, from poor working conditions to climate change

3. They are the eco-warrior generation

Because of millennials and Gen Zs, the climate crisis has been pushed right up to the top of the global news agenda. From millions of young students around the world participating in #FridayForFuture strikes to the teenage activist Greta Thunberg calling attention to the calls of 11,000 scientists declaring a climate emergency, unlike predecessor generations, this demographic are environmentally-aware and are unafraid to speak up about it. Whilst older generations might have described the current planetary situation as “global warming” or “climate change”, millennials and Gen Zs are marking everyday conversations about the crisis with a far more immediate sense of apprehension about the future.

Brisbane School Strike Covering Climate Now
Source: VOA News

4. They are conscious consumers

According to a report by global market firm Nielsen that polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries globally, 73% of Gen Zs and 84% of millennials are expecting brands and retailers to become more sustainable – and are prepared to vote with their dollars. 

Take the sustainable fashion movement, for instance, as a clear example of how sustainability is no longer something brands can skirt around in order to retain customers in an increasingly conscious-driven market. Over the past few years, the fashion industry has found itself in an identity crisis, with figures outlining fashion waste, water wastage and carbon emissions dominating headlines, not to mention thorny human rights problems plaguing brands. In order to keep shoppers shopping, mainstream companies are having to demonstrate genuine dedication and adaptation to circularity and human rights, or face boycotts that may spell bankruptcy for those that can’t keep up

5. They’re all about wellness & self-care

Millennials and Gen Zs aren’t just purpose-driven and climate-conscious, they pay far more attention to their health and well-being too. From the rise of fitness apps such as ClassPass and Keep, both of which recently raised over US$1 billion in total funding to reach unicorn status, to the rise in plant-based and flexitarian diets driven by health concerns, this demographic is the reason behind the explosive growth of wellness-focused businesses. According to a 2018 report by Oliver Wyman, the Asia-Pacific region has seen a 30% increase in sales in the health and wellness businesses between 2007 to 2017. 

Companies are now continually innovating new well-being oriented products to keep up with the trend. In the midst of the pandemic, for example, Facebook-owned Instagram launched a new “wellness guides” function on its app that is centred on mental and physical health and wellbeing, and caters to those who are experiencing negative emotions, stress, anxiety, depression and grief during the pandemic. 

As an aside, this focus on self-care has also changed the way millennials dress- these days, the most fashionable choice you can make is usually the most comfortable with athleisure apparel and yogawear sales skyrocketing over the past decade.

Source: Unsplash

Prioritisation of wellness is also changing the way businesses manage their staff. In China, the decades-old established routine of 12-hour, 6-day working week is now at threat as millennials are increasingly saying “enough”

6. They travel a lot, but differently

Aside from wellness, the younger generations are ruled by travelling (pre-Covid-19 of course), which they see as an opportunity to learn about different cultures, explore new sights and connect with people and communities. Empowered with their knowledge about the climate crisis and their dedication to values, millennials and Gen Zs are travelling consciously

With the Nordic concept of flygskam (aka flight shame) taking off late last year, they are taking more trains, and choosing to walk, hike, cycle, coach during their adventures as much as possible. Although travelling is off the cards right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is likely that there will be a surge in green tourism and conservation-focused travel once lockdowns ease – and investors are willing to bet on it. Eco scuba diving travel platform ZuBlu, for example, recently announced US$1 million seed funding.

7. They value experiences over material things 

Given their purpose-driven outlook, it comes to no surprise that Gen Zs and millennials primarily value meaningful, healthy and experience-based services over material belongings. This has prompted renowned trend-spotter Li Edelkoort to declare at the beginning of this year that fashion and design will have to ultimately move towards “ecology”, as consumers understand that more items do not necessarily lead to more happiness or health. The coronavirus pandemic will only wake more shoppers up to this reality, which Edelkoort hopes will usher in a new economic restart where people get used to living with fewer possessions

Source: ZuBlu

8. They are anti-packaging crusaders (and zero waste addicts)

A new poll by German sustainable development company Utopia confirms that younger generations are increasingly critical of unsustainable mass consumption and are drawn to plastic-free products. The survey found that 73% were willing to abstain from products that do not fit into their ethical and environmental standards, especially if they are excessively packaged. Instead of single-use items that have to be quickly thrown away, millennials and Gen Zs are driving the packaging-free movement forward, with an overwhelming majority of the demographic – 94% – reportedly preferring fewer, more durable items.

Dovetailing the no-packaging trend is the rise of “zero waste” living. Younger consumers are all about bulk grocery shopping, shampoo bars, reusable everything and zero waste stores are popping up in neighbourhoods across the planet.

9. They are anti-brands

Gone are the days when young people aspire to wear big flashy labels. Today’s millennials and Gen Z consumers aren’t flocking to iconic brand names, instead becoming far pickier when it comes to choosing which company’s logo they’re willing to don. Big brands have become the “establishment”, and younger consumers prefer to resist supporting recognisable logos because choosing “woke” brands – typically boutique labels that have proven more genuine and transparent in their ethical and environmental claims – is cooler. Perhaps one way that big brands have adapted their marketing strategies to these demands is by attracting endorsements from individuals or celebrities that consumers trust. 

That might explain the success of food tech giant Impossible Foods, which focused on exactly that: getting the right people behind the company brand to make it popular amongst anti-brand consumers. In an exclusive interview with Green Queen, Impossible’s senior vice president Nick Halla explained that “we needed people like David Chang, Chris Consentino and Traci Des Jardins to get behind it. Then people will try it and tell their friends. That is how we created our brand”.

10. Inclusivity matters to them

Source: Wet n Wild

For businesses’ marketing strategy, diversity and inclusivity are now the ultimate keywords. Whether about size, race, gender, sexuality, age and identity, brands have to be inclusive in their communication, visual marketing and merchandising in order to stay relevant to millennials and Gen Zs who are demanding authenticity from companies. To keep up, British online fashion and cosmetics retailer giant ASOS launched a new See My Fit tool on their platform to let users view dresses on 16 different body types with varying skin shades across sizes 4 to 18. 

This has become even important in light of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial discrimination toward African Americans in the United States, which has spurred a movement to call out companies to address the problems of discimination and exclusion. Two weeks ago, after being exposed for deep-running workplace racism embedded in the company culture, the founder and CEO of eco fashion darling Reformation stepped down from her role. It shows that all brands, including those that are already dedicated to green credentials, must be progressive on all fronts and there is no exception when it comes to inclusivity. 

Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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